State school pupils 'do better at university'

Research finds students from comprehensive schools get better degrees than privately educated peers with the same grades

Pupils from comprehensive schools are likely to do better at university than children educated at private or grammar schools with similar A-level results, according to research carried out for the government and published today.

A five-year study tracking 8,000 A-level candidates found that a comprehensive pupil with the grades BBB is likely to perform as well in their university degree as an independent or grammar school pupil with 2 As and a B.

The findings will strengthen demands for university admissions tutors to give more favourable offers to candidates from comprehensives, as they indicate that private or grammar schooling boosts a pupil's A-level results by at least half a grade.

The research also shows that comprehensive pupils do better than grammar or private school pupils with the same A-level results in degrees awarded by the most academically selective universities, even though the intake of these institutions is dominated by privately educated teenagers. The effect was found across all degree classes awarded in 2009.

The research, which was carried out for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the education charity the Sutton Trust, found that privately educated graduates with the same class of degree as comprehensively educated ones had A-levels that were between half a grade and 0.7 of a grade higher.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "These findings provide further evidence that universities are right to take into account the educational context of students when deciding whom to admit – alongside other information on their achievements and potential."

The research also found that students at elite universities were likely to achieve a lower class of degree than students at less selective universities with similar A-level and GCSE results.

Elite universities awarded more firsts, proportionately, than the other universities in the sample but the research found that with more competition it was harder to get a top degree.

Lee Elliot Major, research director at the Sutton Trust, said: "Independent and grammar school pupils are getting lots of support – they're being pushed to their limits, whereas with comprehensive pupils they aren't fulfilling their full potential, and this shows up at degree, where they fly.

"If A-levels are just about achievement then the independent and grammar schools are doing extremely well. But it doesn't necessarily show the full potential of the comprehensive school pupils."

The report was undertaken by research organisation the National Foundation for Educational Research.


Jeevan Vasagar, education editor

The GuardianTramp

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